By Pete Donovan, The Lott IMPACT Trophy
Undrafted. Unwanted. Unnecessary.
Many hopes and dreams are crushed during the annual National Football League draft lottery when teams salivate over bringing top prospects into their fold. Those drafted, especially in the early rounds, are featured on TV and get their picture made with the smiling Commissioner.
But what of those players who go undrafted? Are they doomed for failure? Forever?
Not always. In fact, 17 players who were never drafted have made it to the Hall of Fame, including quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Warren Moon. And some of the best defensive back in league history – “Nigh Train” Lane, Willie Wood and Willie Brown — were never chosen either.
Center Doug Smith, an anchor in the middle of a very good Rams’ offensive line for over a decade, was undrafted out of Bowling Green. He played between two first round draft choices – guards Dennis Harrah (Miami) and Kent Hill (Georgia Tech). Smith, indeed made six Pro Bowls in his stellar career.
Paddy Fisher, who won the Lott IMPACT Trophy in 2020, was undrafted out of Northwestern and has yet to catch on to an NFL team despite his sterling college career where he was Big Ten Linebacker of the Year twice and an All-American.
A total of eight different Lott finalists went undrafted over the years, notably Jim Leonhard of Wisconsin, who defied the odds and played 10 years in the NFL before moving on to become the defensive coordinator at his alma mater.
This year’s NFL Draft, scheduled April 28-30 in Las Vegas, could be the first in the history of the Lott IMPACT Trophy to have all four finalists chosen in the first round. Lott winner Aiden Hutchinson of Michigan may be the first overall pick (another first for Lott players), Devin Lloyd of Utah and Nakobe Dean of Georgia are both coveted linebackers who are expected to be chosen in the first round and Jordan Davis, another Georgia star, dazzled at the recent combine. The 341-pound defensive tackle clocked an amazing 4.78 in the 40-yard dash. An incredible time for a man his size and faster than current Kansas City quarterback Patrick Homes did when he was tested a few years back. Looks like he’s headed for the first round, too.
Some NFL veterans who won ther Lott trophy could be on the move, too. Four of them are free agents – Jerry Hughes (Buffalo), Anthony Barr (Minnesota), Josey Jewell (Denver) and Jabrill Peppers (New York Giants).